Sunday, August 27, 2023

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Although the helicopter was not specifically designed for counterinsurgency warfare, it proved to be one of the most useful machines the U.S. Army brought to Vietnam. As early as 1954 the Army had studied the use of helicopters in cavalry units, and later experiments with armed helicopters had been conducted at the


U.S. Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama. By early 1959 the U.S. Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the U.S. Army Aviation School had developed an experimental Aerial Reconnaissance and Security Troop-the first air cavalry unit. This aerial combined arms team, composed of scouts, weapons, and infantry, was tested in 1960 and recommended for inclusion as an organic troop in divisional cavalry squadrons. In early 1962 the Army's first air cavalry troop, Troop D, 4th Squadron, 12th Cavalry, was organized at Fort Carson, Colorado, with Captain Ralph Powell as its commander. The troop mission was to extend the capabilities of the squadron in reconnaissance, security, and surveillance by means of aircraft. Over the next three years all divisional cavalry squadrons in the Army were provided with air cavalry troops.


In mid-1962 Lieutenant General Hamilton H. Howze headed a study group to examine the possibilities of the helicopter in land warfare. The group concluded that helicopters organic to the ground forces were an inevitable step in land warfare. The Howze Board foresaw air assaults, air cavalry operations, aerial artillery support, and aerial supply lines, and recommended the creation of an air assault division. The outcome of the study was the formation of the 11th Air Assault Division, later to become the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) . The division organization included one unique unit, an air cavalry squadron made up of one ground troop and three air cavalry troops.


By 1965 when the U.S. Army began to send units to Vietnam, divisional armored cavalry squadrons had three ground cavalry troops and an air cavalry troop, tank battalions had three identical tank companies, and mechanized infantry battalions had three mechanized companies mounted in APC's. (Chart 1) Armored units were equipped with a mixture of M48 and M60 tanks, M 113 armored personnel carriers, and M109 self-propelled 155-mm. howitzers.


On the eve of the Army's major involvement in Vietnam, however, most armor soldiers considered the Vietnam War an infantry and Special Forces fight; they saw no place for armored units. The Armor Officer Advanced Course of 1964-1965 never formally discussed Vietnam, even when American troops were being sent there. Armor officers were preoccupied with traditional concepts of employment of armor on the fields of Europe; a few attempted to focus attention on the use of armor in Vietnam, but in the main they were ignored. Many senior armor officers who had spent years in Europe dismissed the Vietnam conflict as a short, uninteresting interlude best fought with dismounted infantry.

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